Spring Arts Preview: The Top Shows, Events and Exhibits of the Season

Pull out your calendar; it’s time to pencil in the season’s top performances, shows and concerts you won’t want to miss
  • Seattle Art Museum's 'Like a Hammer' exhibit, artist Jeffrey Gibson
Jeffrey Gibson’s 2014 mixed media sculpture, “Like a Hammer”

This article appears in print in the March 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer
The work of New York City–based artist Jeffrey Gibson, who is a Native American—part Choctaw and part Cherokee—gay and was raised in a military family that moved around a lot, explores the layers of his identity as an outsider, someone who learned to navigate life, he says, “on someone else’s terms.” The paintings, wall hangings and sculptures in this exhibit—among them boxer’s punching bags, stuffed figures and repurposed found items—are embellished with Native American regalia, including intricate patterns of beads, jingles and various textiles sometimes arranged to spell phrases. The resulting collection is a riot of color and texture that playfully draws the viewer into a world—the experience of another human being—impossible to ever fully know, but commanding one’s full consideration anyhow. Times and prices vary. Seattle Art Museum, downtown, 1300 First Ave.; 206 625.8900

Maestro Morlot at the podium. Photo by James Holt

Ludovic Morlot’s Final Concerts with the Seattle Symphony
If this were a TV series finale, it would be a two-part episode: Ludovic Morlot has conceived his final concerts as Seattle Symphony music director as one big program, starting June 13–15 with music by Wagner and by the French-born Morlot’s beloved compatriot Debussy, plus Richard Strauss’ elegantly ravishing Oboe Concerto, then concluding June 20–23 with more Wagner and Debussy. As his final word before taking time off to study and guest-conduct in Europe, Morlot has chosen Leoš Janáček’s rarely played The Eternal Gospel, with its luminous and soaring closing chorus. Times and prices vary. Benaroya Hall, downtown, 200 University St.; 206.215.4747; seattlesymphony.org

Roots rocker Brandi Carlile. Photo by Catherine Carlile

Brandi Carlile with Neko Case and Emmylou Harris
By the time you read this, you’ll know whether Ravensdale native Brandi Carlile turned any of the six Grammy nominations for her 2018 album, By the Way, I Forgive You, into awards. For this show, her pure talent—a rich, expressive voice; heartfelt, lived-in lyrics; a killer band—is worth the price of admission alone. That she’s opened up the bill to include two of the world’s finest living female songwriters—in Grammy-speak, indie-rock queen Case has three noms, and country legend Harris has 13 wins and too many noms to mention—elevates this concert to festival status. 6 p.m. Prices vary. Gorge Amphitheatre, Quincy, 754 Silica Road; 206.682.1414; stgpresents.org

Los Angeles-based poet and author Morgan Parker reads from her new poetry collection at Hugo House. Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Morgan Parker
In her new collection of poetry, Magical Negro—whose title refers to the phenomenon Salon calls the “offensive movie cliché that won’t die”; cue Morgan Freeman as “God” or Will Smith as “Bagger Vance”—this prolific, prize-winning, degree-accumulating Los Angeles–based author, poet and arts organizer explores in expansive prose what has been described as “an archive of Black everydayness, a catalog of contemporary folk heroes, an ethnography of ancestral grief, and an inventory of figureheads, idioms and customs.” Parker reads from the collection. 7 p.m. Free. Hugo House, Capitol Hill, 1634 11th Ave.; 206.322.7030

The incomparable Nina Simone, in 1965. Courtesy of Ron Kroon/Anefo

Nina Simone: Four Women
Neither a jukebox musical nor a conventional musical biography, Christina Ham’s play about singer/songwriter/activist Nina Simone imagines three of the four female archetypes evoked in Simone’s song “Four Women” as real people. The fourth becomes Simone herself, and they all meet in the ruins of the bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham—which, as it happens, Ham’s mother’s own family attended. University of Washington faculty member Valerie Curtis-Newton directs the show’s West Coast premiere. Times and prices vary. Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center, 155 Mercer St.; 206.443.2222

Items on view at Seattle Style include a Wayne Wichern black and white rose hat. Courtesy of MOHAI

Seattle Style: Fashion/Function
At this fashion retrospective, garments reflecting the city’s reputation for utilitarian wear will expectedly be on view (it’s no coincidence that Eddie Bauer was founded here, for example; you’ll see that company’s 1932 down bomber jacket), but also expect nods to haute couture, including fashion-forward residents such as designer Luly Yang. Along the way, you’ll see contributions from the Nordstrom empire (the company helped produce this show) and the likes of Kurt Cobain and his penchant for flannel, which helped inspire Marc Jacobs’ 1992 “grunge” runway show for Perry Ellis. Times and prices vary. Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), South Lake Union, 860 Terry Ave. N; 206.324.1126

Seattle International Film Festival
It’s still too early to grab your copy of the free SIFF guide and circle everything you want to see (mark your calendars: the schedule is announced May 1), and it’s definitely too late to start working on a time machine that would allow you to turn back the clock so that you can see two films slated for the same time, the bane of overscheduled SIFF addicts. You know the drill: close to 300 features, plus shorts packages and special events ranging from celebrity appearances to virtual-reality showcases, teen filmmakers’ work to gala parties. Times, prices and venues vary. 206.464.5830; siff.net

The Purple One at his 1984 birthday concert at Minneapolis nightclub, First Avenue. Photo by Nancy Bundt

Prince from Minneapolis
Is there a better subject to decorate the funky galleries of the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop)—a nexus of pop culture, style, music and creativity—than Prince, an artist that embodied the same characteristics? Featuring interpretive fan art (including Prince-inspired bicycles, dolls and blown-glass figures), instruments, costumes, photographs and more, this is a heartfelt love letter to the gone-too-soon “Purple One.” (While you’re there, pay your respects to Prince’s instrument of choice at the museum’s new guitar gallery, which displays axes from the likes of Carrie Brownstein, Muddy Waters, Hank Williams and Nancy Wilson.) Times and prices vary. MoPop, Seattle Center, 325 Fifth Ave. N; 206.770.2700

West Side Story
For a show that relies so heavily on dancing (Jerome Robbins’s choreography, to be specific, in the original production) to propel the plot, the 5th’s production tapped no less than Spectrum Dance Theater (see page 60 for more about that ensemble this season) to cover that department in this evergreen—and sadly, ever-relevant—musical tale of ethnic conflict and love that can’t quite overpower hate. It’s all intensified by the heart-tugging music of Leonard Bernstein, another innovator whose centennial is being recognized worldwide this season. Times and prices vary. 5th Avenue Theatre, downtown, 1308 Fifth Ave.; 206.625.1900

Choreographer and dancer Dani Tirrell. Photo by Naomi Ishisaka

Dani Tirrell
Don’t let the provocative title of Tirrell’s new work—FagGod—keep you away. Tirrell is the fearless Seattle choreographer whose 2018 sold-out On the Boards run of Black Bois, a meditation on the black experience, was one of Seattle’s top performances of the year. As its name suggests, FagGod mines Tirrell’s queer identity and expression, transforming what at first seems an uneasy topic—homosexuality and the church—into a profoundly evolved thesis about the places, Tirrell explains, where “the LGBTQIA+ community found sanctuary [at] the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic…the discos, bathhouses and churches where many people…were able to be themselves.” Tirrell performs the work solo, accompanied by spoken word artists Naa Akua and Anastasia Renee. Times TBD. Prices vary. Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, Central District, 104 17th Ave. S; 206.684.4757

Author Susan Choi tours in support of her new novel, 
Trust Exercise. Photo by Heather Weston

Susan Choi
This Yale- and Cornell-educated former New Yorker fact checker and author, whose 2003 novel based on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, American Woman, was shortlisted for the Pulitzer, reads from her new novel, Trust Exercise, about a young couple who fall deeply in love, and the forces of the world that penetrate their romance. 7 p.m. Free. Elliott Bay Book Company, Capitol Hill, 1521 10th Ave.; 206.624.6600

The ideal opera for beginners: Bizet’s smoldering Carmen. Courtesy of Seattle Opera

It’s on the long side (think of the three-and-a-half-hour performance as getting your money’s worth), but otherwise Bizet’s earthy melodrama is the ideal opera for the novice. No matter how inexperienced you are with opera, you probably already know at least three of the tunes, and you’ll leave humming more; and the push-pull romance between the title character and Don Jose, the soldier she dangles on a string, will hold you in its grip just as he’s held in hers, leading to a punch-in-the-gut (or knife, to be exact) tragic climax. Times and prices vary. McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 321 Mercer St.; 206.389.7676; seattleopera.org

Spectrum Dance restages Shot, which premiered in 2017, during this season’s Wokeness Festival. Photo by Nate Waters

Wide Awake: Spectrum Dance Theater
4/10–4/13, 4/16, 4/18–4/20
All artists want to stretch themselves, but the emotional leap Spectrum Dance Theater is taking in April under artistic director Donald Byrd is almost unfathomable. On two weekends—which it has dubbed The Wokeness Festival—the dance troupe is performing works exploring one of the most searing social and political issues of our time. Shot (4/10–4/13), which premiered in January 2017, offers an “unapologetic critique” of the epidemic of murders of black Americans by cops; and Strange Fruit (4/25–4/28) is based on the lacerating anti-lynching song by Abel Meeropol, made famous in a Billie Holiday recording. In between? The dancers get about as far from politics as dance can get in a salute to the beautiful, gnomic abstractions in the work of Merce Cunningham (4/18–4/20). A kid from Centralia who, after a few years at Cornish College of the Arts, rose to become arguably the century’s most groundbreaking choreographer, Cunningham built dance works based on the ancient Chinese divination method the I Ching (inspired by his collaborator and life partner, composer John Cage), liberating dance from story and mime. Spectrum’s performances are part of a worldwide celebration of the dancer and choreographer on the centennial of his birth (April 16). Come to think of it, these three weekends are linked in a cruelly ironic way: Cunningham’s embrace of happenstance in his work is echoed tragically in the arbitrariness of whether a black person lives or dies in an encounter with the law. Times and prices vary. Spectrum Dance Theater, Madrona, 800 Lake Washington Blvd.; 206.325.4161

Blue Note recording legend Miles Davis. Photo Courtesy of Seattle Jewish Film Festival

Seattle Jewish Film Festival
3/23–3/31, 4/6–4/7
The annual cinematic celebration of Jewish and Israeli life and culture, now 24 years running, this year turns its focus to music. On the heels of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial, don’t miss a special appearance by his author-filmmaker daughter, Jamie Bernstein, who’ll discuss her new memoir and the Georg Wübbolt–directed documentary Leonard Bernstein: Larger than Life. Also planned is a screening of Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, about the legendary jazz label founded by German Jewish refugees, which is preceded by a live performance by the Garfield High School Jazz Trio. Times, prices and venues vary. seattlejewishfilmfestival.org

Water dancer, Karin Stevens. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis

Karin Stevens Dance

In the 10th year of her eponymous dance company, Seattle native and choreographer Karin Stevens explores the significance of water as it relates to Seattle history and climate change in Sea Change Within Us, her new interdisciplinary dance work. Stevens says that by connecting elements of original music by local composers Kaley Lane Eaton and Jessi Harvey, audio clips from interviews with environmental scientists and an interactive stage installation designed by Roger Feldman, she hopes the piece provides viewers “some anchors to hang on to, that reach into those spaces inside ourselves that can be overwhelmed by the deluge of information.” Times and prices TBD. Base: Experimental Arts + Space, Georgetown, 6520 Fifth Ave. S

Third Coast Percussion will perform the percussion-only Perpetulum by Philip Glass. Photo by Saverio Truglia

Third Coast Percussion
This Chicago-based percussion quartet brings a work commissioned in part by soon-to-reopen Town Hall: Perpetulum by Philip Glass, the first percussion-only work by the prolific 82-year-old. The title is the composer’s invented portmanteau of “perpetual” and “momentum”—adjectives that can aptly describe nearly all of his music, with its steady-state rhythms and hooky harmonic shifts. 6 p.m. Prices vary. Benaroya Hall, downtown, 200 University St.; 206.215.4747; townhallseattle.org

Choreographer and dancer, Mark Haim. Photo by Tim Duquechet

Mark Haim
Seattle claimed this legend (a Juilliard darling who’s created work for—and led—dance companies around the world) as its own when he moved here in 2002, but the choreographer and dancer, perhaps best known for The Goldberg Variations, stages new work here only sporadically (he’s busy creating dances, teaching and lecturing internationally). Haim is now in his late 50s, and Parts to a Sum is the new work that’s shaping up to be another career-defining piece: through something called “dance prayers” and the magic of movement, it connects 432 people Haim has known—relatives, friends, lovers, colleagues, students and others—in a performance that ritually cumulates his life. 7:30 p.m. Prices vary. Velocity Dance Center, Capitol Hill, 1621 12th Ave.; 206.325.8773

Valeria Luiselli
Seattle arts & lectures presents this evening with Valeria Luiselli, the award-winning author whose work as a translator for Central American children applying to migrate into the U.S. inspired Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions, her 2017 examination of the immigration crisis. The book is structured around the actual questionnaire children as young as 6 or 7 must answer at our southern border after their unimaginably grueling journey. As one NPR reviewer noted: “Answering each is like passing through a doorway covered in cobwebs that can’t be shaken off.” 7:30 p.m. Prices vary. Benaroya Hall, downtown, 200 University St.; 206.621.2230; lectures.org

A still from June 17th by Amaranth Borsuk and Andy Fitch; Borsuk leads a video poetry workshop at Cadence 2019. Photo by Amaranth Borsuk and Andy Fitch

Cadence: A Video Poetry Festival
Dates throughout April
Put on your best beret for this festival, which combines the verse with the visual in celebration of National Poetry Month. Enjoy its programming of shorts, which includes video by poets, poetry by video artists, workshops and a screening of the cinematic result of its artist-in-residence (all still TBD). It’s a multidisciplinary taste of the new Northwest Film Forum, which last year adopted a new vision as a community arts space and “forum for all.” Times and prices vary. Northwest Film Forum, Capitol Hill, 1515 12th Ave.; 206.329.2629

Last year, Nancy Casciano’s “We Were Little,” was performed during the “In” portion of PNB’s Next Step showcase; the ballet isn’t yet revealing what’s in store for this year’s performance. Photo by Lindsay Thomas

Next Step: Outside/In
There is plenty to see at Pacific Northwest Ballet this spring—A Midsummer Night’s Dream returns in April, and the company’s traditional closing mixed showcase, Themes and Variations, tends to wrap on a dynamic note—but we love the playful spirit of Next Step: Outside/In. For one night only, guests are treated to dance both inside and outside McCaw Hall, with new works created by PNB company members (the “In” portion, which is ticketed) and by PNB School Professional Division students (the “Out” portion, which is free) for an evening that mirrors the fleeting qualities, and promise, of the season. Times and prices vary. McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 301 Mercer St.; 206.441.2424; pnb.org

Seattle Transgender Film Festival
We don’t know what films will be screened, who will be in them or who’s behind the camera (that information was under lockdown as we went to press). What we do know is that this film festival, now 14 years strong and produced by Three Dollar Bill Cinema, the local nonprofit with a mission to “strengthen, connect and reflect diverse communities through queer film and media,” will show titles that will spark conversation while dedicating space for the issues facing the transgender community. We suppose that’s good enough for now. Times and prices vary. Northwest Film Forum, Capitol Hill, 1515 12th Ave.; 206.329.2629

Infinite Color and Sound: Sway
Kate Neckel—an abstract visual artist who, The New York Times said, “has never been bound by the traditional confines of canvas and paper”—is presumably the “color” half of artistic duo Infinite Color and Sound. The “sound” side of the pair? A name you may recognize: Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. Yet their premiering exhibition, Sway, a collection of collage, sculpture, painting, drawing, music and performance, seems guided less by their traditional roles than by what the gallery describes a “lack of rules, boundaries, or restrictions,” the collaborators sharing interchanging creative tasks. The duo’s exhibit will be launched with two performances revealing the process of their multimedia work together. Performances: March 22–23. 7:30 p.m. Prices TBA. Gallery exhibition: Times vary. Free. Winston Wachter Gallery, 203 Dexter Ave. N, LQA; 206.652.5855

Hear the music of Mason Bates at the “Bach to Bates” concert. Photo by Kate Warren

Mason Bates
It’s been about a half century since Wendy Carlos combined J.S. Bach’s music with the space-age tones of the Moog synthesizer for the hit album Switched-On Bach; the carved-in-marble purity of Bach’s structures and textures made them a natural fit with the coolness of technology. For this season finale concert of the Joshua Roman–curated Town Music series, “Bach to Bates,” this symbiosis gets an update by setting it next to the electronica-friendly music of composer Mason Bates, Musical America’s 2018 Composer of the Year. 7:30 p.m. Prices vary. Venue TBD. townhallseattle.org 

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